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4 ways chains are retaining employees during the pandemic

From bonuses to custom-created sandwiches, restaurant chains around the country are trying to keep their valuable resources in-house during a stressful time.
Ike’s Love & Sandwiches
Photos courtesy of Ike’s Love & Sandwiches

It’s an undeniably stressful time for restaurant employees as they battle coronavirus fears, enforce mask-wearing among sometimes-resistant customers and deal with economic uncertainty.

Operators, meanwhile, who are struggling to stay afloat, want to hang on to high-performing employees since they’ve already spent money recruiting and training them.

Early in the pandemic, several chains added incentive pay and other benefits to try to keep their employees on the job. Now, a number of operators are adding incentives to keep employees at all levels within their restaurant organizations as the crisis drags on. Here’s a look at some notable retention efforts during the pandemic.

Expanded education benefits

Checkers & Rally’s Restaurants expanded its educational benefits for employees a couple of weeks ago. The quick-service chains launched a Career Online High School program in select Ohio and Michigan stores in February 2018. The program has been expanded to eligible employees at all corporate-owned U.S. locations, allowing them to earn high school diplomas as well as workforce training certificates in a variety of fields. The restaurants also offer an English as a Second Language education to employees. Preliminary research on the high school diploma program found that employee retention doubled at participating restaurant and retail locations and more than half of employees who earned their high school diplomas were promoted within six months of completion, according to Checkers & Rally’s.

Employee bonuses

Shake Shack announced late last month it would provide a year-end bonus of $250 to $400 to all employees, based on position. The burger chain also said it would guarantee bonus payouts to all managers through the end of the year “for the incredible grit they continue to demonstrate.” The chain gave managers a 10% bonus during Q2.

Boosting management retention

Noodles & Company has seen a dramatic change in management retention recently. Currently, the average general manager has been with the fast-casual chain for almost 5.5 years. That’s a boost of 15 months over the average tenure of two years ago, CEO Dave Boennighausen said during the company’s most-recent earnings release. The company also offers maternity/paternity and adoption benefits. Most recently, it has added InstaPay so employees get instant access to paychecks, as well as financial literacy courses for all employees.

Ike’s Love & Sandwiches

Create a custom sandwich

San Francisco-based sandwich shop Ike’s Love & Sandwiches allows every employee who has been with the company for five years to get a sandwich on the menu. The chain’s current menu includes more than 50 custom employee sandwiches. Sandwiches must be made from existing SKUs. Ideas are sent to the chain’s founder for pricing and general approval. One longtime general manager created the TYRAWR!, a vegetarian offering of vegan breaded “chicken,” Buffalo sauce, ranch, veggie bacon and smoked gouda.

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